Friday, 24 June 2011

Maternity in the 20th Century

I thought I might share these amusing photos from Grantly Dick-Read's seminal work 'Childbirth Without Fear', first published in 1942. Judging from their eye masks, these women look pretty fearful to me. Conversely, they could be Ninja women!

However, slightly disturbing as these trussed up women look, we should not be too quick to judge Mr Dick-Read, who was actually one of the first childbirth experts to presciently speak out against medicalised maternity and the pregnancy production line which so many maternity hospitals would come to resemble in the 60s and 70s, (he himself died in 1959), reminding the rest of his profession as well as women that actually childbirth was a natural process, and with good management, learning and understanding on the parts of all its players, could remain so for the vast majority of women. And although his book was re-printed for 20 years on the trot and he became the first president of the National Childbirth Trust, he weathered a good deal of opposition and career curbing for his unfashionable views. I mean how DARE he suggest that childbirth was natural? Not least in the days prior to the 1948 foundation of the NHS when a terrified woman had to pay a tidy sum for a surgeon's delivery, even if it took installments to do it.

I don't know if my mother had heard of Mr Dick-Read but my mother also bucked the trend and I was born at home, delivered by our district midwife, Nurse Bell, as was my sister two years later during the latter times home birth was almost unheard of and dire threats issued by 'experts' that the mother would die, or at least the child, if more than a few feet away from a scrubbed up surgeon on standby in his fully-equipped operating suite.

To get back to 'Childbirth Without Fear' (never 'pregnancy'), Mr Dick-Read presents a book both ahead of its time, but still struggling with old attitudes and highlighting the many tragic cases of young women who found wonderful men to love, but then rejected them and marriage or even jilted them at the altar because they were so terrified of that inevitable fate, childbirth, swathed as it then was in gleeful gruesome old wives' tales and widespread ignorance. And even many who'd got as far as marriage and their first child would turn their back on romantic love forever if they'd had a bad experience, dooming their spouse to a sexless marriage and letting him think they no longer loved him rather than admitting they just couldn't face the prospect of childbirth again.

Personally I shall always infinitely prefer the odd hour of other people's children to entertaining any thoughts of my own, even with a world of sex education and pain-management at my feet. A rather cynical Facebook friend recently declared children to be the worst sexually transmitted disease you can contract! Which was rather vicious of him, if also amusing.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Cabaret of Curiosities

Less than two weeks to go and I'm looking forward to my OxFringe gig with Project Adorno on 22nd (think cross between Raw Sex and Pet Shop Boys with some random philosophers and Dr Who's thrown in) and Philip Jeays, an English singer/songwriter in the chanson tradition. And then there's me, The Poet Laura-eate, with her 'inimitable offbeat take on life' as one reviewer put it.

I have no doubts this triage of talent (or 3-for-1) deal will prove a qualitative experience for our audience, not least in the wake of last year's rave review from the Oxford Times for 'Byron, Get One Free', the poetry show I did with fellow poet Oliver Gozzard.

However promoting gigs has become a hard slog in Oxford, not least as the majority of Oxford pubs and cafes have decided to go all minimalist, removing their friendly community 'What's On' boards, partly a response, no doubt, to the rise of the staple-gun terrorist who plasters every available noticeboard in multiple oversized posters of garish hue and even invades Oxford Colleges to staple them all over the antique oak panelling of each JCR/MCR, given half a chance. 'Bill Posters', that much persecuted figure of the 1970s/80s, it seems, is not prosecuted for irresponsible postering any more. Though a well-policed noticeboard with strict rules about single posters of no larger than A4 size with regular weeding for the out-of-date events is all that is needed. Even the scruffiest pub which made a feature of decorating its walls with What's On posters has gone upmarket to paper their walls with replica 1950s film posters instead, promoting films which have long ceased to require any promotion.

I ended up feeling quite dispirited after my trudge around Oxford with a bagful of posters earlier this week as it seems that anyone without a corporate-sized advertising budget to pay the companies who now own many of the poster and leaflet sites is being squeezed out. Nor do I have a convenient celebrity up my sleeve to make a free media splash with!

However a few gems remain such as Green's Cafe, which still rely on What's On posters for that welcoming Oxford feel.

On the electronic front, who looks at their barrage of Facebook invitations any more or notices their weekly e-mails from events listing sites? Needless to say I have spammed all my Facebook and other friends as much as I dare to invite each to either attend or print out a poster for me and put up on their work or public noticeboard as penance if they can't make it. ;- )

Anyway, before you ask: Upstairs at the Copa, George Street, Oxford, Wednesday 22nd June 2011 @ 9.30pm, admission £6/£5 concessions - look forward to seeing you there!

Sunday, 5 June 2011


The theme of this year's 500-word Commonwealth Short Story Competition was 'Women as Agents of Change'. Here's my entry - since I didn't win!

Angela Downie looked out from the rooftop Widow's Walk and noted one of her residents Ronnie catching the surf already. Not bad for 82, she thought, patting her spaniel Oscar. She went into the sun room where another resident Betty was reading and made herself a cup of tea. Oscar bounded over to Betty for a tummy tickle. After tea, Angela embarked on her morning round of greeting the residents, making sure they and the staff had everything they needed, ending up in everyone's favourite place, the petting zoo at the end of the garden, which never needed the slightest intervention from Angela bar the odd vets' bill as the residents looked after the animals as if they were their own children, even those who had professed to be less than keen when the first goat appeared.

This morning, the female residents were gathered excitedly in the lounge awaiting the makeover lady, prized for her independent make-up, hair and fashion advice. Lois touched her arm 'I wish I'd known all this forty years ago you know.' 'Tell me about it' said Angela. 'I didn't realise I'd been wearing the wrong type of foundation and the wrong bra size for years either. Who needs surgery when you know the tricks of the trade?' 'Well we've got the facelifting exercise lady on Thursday' replied Lois 'Ah, so we have.' said Angela 'I shall look forward to that'.

When she established 'Renaissance', Angela had intended to remain a business auditor, appointing a professional management team to run the community. Instead she quickly found herself becoming so bound up in the lives of the residents and her ambitions for them that she had ended up selling her consultancy to focus full-time on her new genre of elderly living which, whilst unlikely to make her a millionairess, paid for itself by a comfortable margin, and inestimably in job satisfaction.

Those long fruitless years of trying to have children with her former husband seemed so far away now. Irrelevant almost. However it was her elderly father Graham's death in an NHS hospital, following the most horrendous ordeal after a routine hip replacement turned infected which led to Angela deciding that if she could save just one elderly person from a lonely end in an anonymous hospital or care home at the hands of abusive or indifferent staff whose idea of withdrawing treatment included 'food and liquids', then her maternal instincts might still have a role.

A national newspaper invitation to form an active and interested 'family' of older citizens in a former Victorian hotel by the sea for no more than standard care home fees had attracted more interest than she dreamed and it took many months of sifting to establish which applicants were most likely and willing to embrace Angela's ideas for living life to the full to the end. She felt bad about those who hadn't made the final interview, but took the pragmatic view that if the blueprint worked, she would in due course franchise it so that many more had the opportunity.

She smiled as she took a photo of Brian and helped him with his profile. 'Be honest now.' She winked. 'Women can't stand liars. Take it from one who knows'.
She went down to the basement cinema to set up for film night, Oscar trotting behind. Tony Hancock's The Rebel had won the hat pick. Jack and Sylvia waved from the gym 'You've only got two and a half hours until the circle dancing' Angela joked, poking her head round the door. Jack and Sylvia chuckled.

©LS King 2011